Birdwatch & Insects, Autumn-Winter 2017

Published in Nature Watch

Steve Jones rounds off the year, puzzled by the absence of some birds he expected to see.

Common Scarlet Darter Dragonfly Common Scarlet Darter Dragonfly Photo: Steve Jones

As we came into Autumn there was the expected movement, with lots of finches appearing, predominantly Chaffinch, Goldfinch with a few interspersed Serin, feeding on seed heads. I am always on the lookout for Brambling amongst the Chaffinch but it seems I have to make to do with the two sightings in early January. The Serin pictured below was at the pond (which still had very little water after the hot dry summer). The picture came out better than I was expecting, even though I was looking into the sun. I think it is probably a male in winter plumage, which becomes incredibly bright in Spring time.

Serin, 18th October 2017. Photo: Steve Jones

October 13th: Still seeing odd Swallows and this morning a Swift. Lots of Wagtails on the airfield, up to 50, and this week a big movement of Stonechats which I didn’t notice at all last year. I've seen 30 - 40 at various locations this week. I was very pleased with this picture of the goldfinch / gardelin - you really don't get too much closer than this. I took about 20 shots this morning, slowly edging closer, shielded by some grape vines.

Goldfinch, October 2017. Photo: Steve Jones

In October, 'Nature' journal publicized a report from Denmark1 showing changes in breeding patterns as well as a decline in numbers of starlings (sturnusa vulgaris) in a long-term study. Over 45 years from 1971 to 2015, dairy farmer Peder V. Thellesen logged the habits of the birds, which had 27 nesting boxes on his property2. The changes are attributed largely to climate change, and give cause for worry. Similarly, I know of in-depth studies of curlew on Dartmoor, which have suggested that curlew in the south of England could be extinct within 7 years, unless something is done. the situation is complex, but in this case predation is apparently the biggest problem.

October 18th: I saw a Swift two days ago at Jelsa fire station. There are still lots moving, most notably Stonechats. I have also seen several Pipits, but have not been able to get anywhere near close enough for a decent picture. Sparrow Hawks have been about regularly, but again they have escaped the camera. Robins are back in large numbers, and they are the most prominent singers at the moment. Robins may well be here throughout the year, but if they are, they're certainly not obvious.

Robin, December 2017. Photo: Steve Jones

October 19th: There was a flock of 20 plus Starlings at airfield this morning. Oddly, I hadn't seen one in all the time I had been going there until January/February of this year (I even mentioned this when we did an interview for the magazine Dobra Kob at the beginning of the year). And now this is the second lot I have seen this Autumn. What a surprise!

Starlings, 19th October 2017. Photo: Steve Jones

Towards the end of October I had another first for me and the island – Wood Lark, there were up to seven on the airfield for around a week.

Wood lark, October 2017. Photo: Steve Jones

Blackcaps seemed to be actively feeding on the remaining figs. I did manage a glimpse of another new species, a Firecrest.

Firecrest. Photo: John Ball

Stonechats were clearly passing through for about 10 days, I saw them regularly regularly down near the pond. Up to 50 Pied Wagtails were on the airfield amongst occasional pipits and Yellow Wagtails, and I was still seeing the odd Swallow and Swifts well into October. (A Grey Wagtail was often to be seen in Stari Grad, but he has not provided me with a decent picture). It's worth noting that 'pied wagtail' used to be the general term for two groups of birds which were very similar, whereas nowadays it's more usual to differentiate between 'pied wagtails' and 'white wagtails'. In fact most of the the ones on Hvar are white wagtails.

Yellow wagtail, 14th October 2017. Photo: Steve Jones

The latter part of October saw the arrival of Great Tits and Blue Tits. Sparrowhawks and Buzzards were also seen now on an almost daily basis, but both were extremely uncomfortable near the camera.

Buzzard, Dol, November 2017. Photo: Steve Jones

October 29th: I am 99% sure I had a Goldcrest the other day. I am not 100% certain, but fellow bird-watching enthusiast John Ball had a definite sighting with a fine photograph to prove it on October 13th, from the beach by the Senses resort in Vrboska, where he was staying. So Goldcrest is included in the year's list of sightings, bringing the total to just above 90 species for the year. Say I miss about 10% the true figure could be close to 100 species for the year.

Goldcrest, October 2017. Photograph: John Ball

This week saw the return of Black Redstarts (I first saw them on 2nd November last year, 2016). There were still Tawny Pipits on airfield and at last I managed a picture this week - not a brilliant one, but good enough for certain identification.

Tawny pipit. Photo: Steve Jones

 Common Darters (dragonflies ) are laying / mating at the remaining water in the pond.

Common darter dragonfly. Photo: Steve Jones

The Grey Wagtail keeps escaping the camera in Stari Grad but I have been seeing and hearing it most days now. Yesterday I saw good numbers of Clouded Yellow butterflies, but as for getting one on the camera ........... Ummmmm.

In November I started using the little bird feeding station I had created. Initially it was all very quiet, but once they got used to the food they started to come in numbers. I was inundated with Great Tits - up to 20 at one time -, also Blue Tits and Chaffinch.

Blue tit, November 2017. Photo: Steve Jones

A very occasional Dunnock appeared, also a Wren (but I have not been lucky enough to get a decent photograph of him yet). There were a few Black Redstarts around, but they didn't come to the feeders.

Great tit, November 2017. Photo: Steve Jones

In early December I was delighted with another new species on the Island - Hawfinch. I had only seen one briefly in the UK once before. I managed to see three in the following days, but not close enough for a picture, until I managed this on the 12th December.

Hawfinch, 12th December 2017. Photo: Steve Jones

December 19th. My feeding station has proved to be very successful, I could easily get rid of 1kg of bird food in a day (and at 18 kuna a kilo I am rationing it somewhat)!! It is interesting how the birds come in waves, appearing in grouops of 20 - 30, although there are mainly just three species. They feed just for a few minutes and then are gone. I suspect it is a strategy to fool the neighbouring cats, as three have taken to lying in wait at the bottom of the feeder or in a tree nearby.

I have still been hearing the Wren in the neighbourhood, but he's escaped the camera so far. I am sure I will get a picture at some stage during the winter. As we passed the shortest day you may well have noticed how the Blackbird was more prominent, starting to feed on the ivy berries. Before long they would be actively singing as the New Year begins………………. Bringing with it another list of bird species sightings!

With the end of another year upon us, it seems I have to settle for 93 species sighted in 2017, not the 100 I had been hoping for. I accept from the areas I cover I could have missed several species, but on balance, given the frequency with which I have visited “my patch” I am happy with what I have recorded. I don’t do any sea-watching – for no other reason than on the times I have tried, it has offered little, which is surprising. I am also puzzled as to why certain “common” species aren’t seen on the island, such as Magpie, Jay, Crow and Jackdaw, which I was used to seeing in large numbers in the UK. However, here there are lots of Hooded Crows, which are very apparent at the moment, so maybe they do the job of all those others. I also have not seen Long Tailed Tits or Coal Tits at all, and Blue Tits are rare, appearing only in single numbers. I am planning a couple of trips to the mainland in 2018 for some bird watching – it may just be to do with the location of the island.

© Steve Jones 2017

References:

1. Fox, A., Heldbjerg, H. 2017. Ornothology: Danish dairy farmer delivers data coup. Nature, 550, 333 (19 October 2017) doi:10.1038/550333b

2. Thellesen, P.V. 2017. Kuldstørrelse og yngletidspunkt hos Stær i Sydvestjylland, 1971-2015. Dansk Ornitol. Foren. Tidsskr. 111, 87-95.

For more of Steve's nature pictures, see his personal pages: Bird Pictures on Hvar 2017, and Butterflies of Hvar

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